How Your Childhood Affects You—For Generations

by | May 1, 2019

Did you ever notice when your family gets together—years after you’ve grown up and been on your own—that you revert to the way you were as a kid? That your mother treats you the same way she used to? And your father and siblings do, too? Were you the lazy one? Or the unreliable one? Or the scatterbrained one? Even though you’ve long outgrown these traits and are an accomplished human being, you still have parts of you from your childhood that you carry deep within you.

During childhood, you learned to adapt. You and your family had patterns of behavior that you learned to adapt to in order to survive. When you grew up and left your nuclear family, you left that behavior template behind and found new patterns and new systems of behavior. But you gravitate toward that which is comfortable and familiar. You gravitate toward parts of yourself that you recognize from your childhood. Even when that is negative and self-destructive.

How Your Childhood Affects You—For Generations Nancy'S Counseling Corner

The templates you learned frame the expectations you have of relationships and your style of attachment. You probably don’t have a way of articulating this; it’s more unconscious than not, but it affects your life. In turn, it affects the patterns you develop when you bring up your children, and they bring up theirs.

Secure and Insecure Attachment

If you had a stable, loving environment growing up, chances are you feel secure in your relationships with others. You know who you are and how to be with yourself and others. You are naturally going to behave similarly with your children.

If you had a childhood where your needs weren’t met—maybe your parents were raised in a dysfunctional household—you may separate from parts of yourself that you need to connect with others. Then when you’re a parent you don’t have the positive experience or the established behavior pattern to rely on, you perpetuate that disconnection. A part of you is closed off, as a protection against hurt and because you’ve adapted to save yourself from grief. You don’t have a good sense of self and your pattern of disconnection is repeated through generations.

Learning How to Meet Your Own Needs

When you have a disconnect, eventually you learn to come together within yourself or you don’t. When you feel insecure and a lack of worth, you hope someone else will save you—make you whole, make you feel worthy.

For example, if your mother was a narcissist—because of the way she was raised—and you grew up understanding that her needs were more important than yours, you might spend a good part of your life in her shadow. She was ill equipped to attend to your needs. Eventually you’d realize this and accept it. No one can fill the void except you. You will have to define your own self, give yourself worth. And grieve the loss of all those times the mother you wish you had could not meet your needs. She will not make you whole. Only you can do that.


Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:



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